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"East, West, Home's Best"
by Rachel Lax

The country I come from is England. I don't have any very strong feelings for it though, because I think that home is where your family is.... Home to me is where my parents are and at the moment that's Switzerland, but Switzerland could never be my "home-land" because everything here is so different and I know that we'll be moving in a few years anyway.

—Rachel Lax
English global nomad, 13 years old
The Swiss Group of International Schools Students' Magazine, 1991

At the early age of 13, Rachel Lax already understands that for multi-mover global nomads, as perhaps for their internationally-mobile parents, "home" is a relatively loose concept.

Home for Rachel, as indeed for many global nomads, is less tied to place than it is to people. We may say we come from the countries on whose passports we travel, or that we come from the host countries in which we currently live, but in reality those places are only part of the picture. After all, we're not often in any one place long enough to really put down roots. In fact, multi-mover global nomad don't tend to have geographically-based roots but, rather, a more broad-spread rooting system based on relationships - often world-wide relationships.

Importantly, Rachel's perspective is that of a multi-mover global nomad. As she says at the end of the poem, "...and I know that we'll be moving in a few years anyway". A global nomad living many years in one country will be much more geographically rooted, might indeed come to know, for example, Switzerland as her home-land.

For Rachel, home is where her family is. This is typical for multi-mover global nomads for whom nuclear families form the only real continuity. Our parents and our siblings and, if we're lucky, our furniture and out pets, go with us from country to country. Continuity is certainly one reason so many practitioners working with expatriate families, and especially multi-movers, advise that families use their maximum household shipping allowances. It may be a different home in your next host country, but at least the people and the chairs and the dinner plates will be the same!

Sacred objects help provide continuity in the midst of a transition itself. These are the portable roots that remind you of loved-ones, of your history and community, wherever you are. Experienced multi-movers bring these with them on the airplane, make sure they are available throughout the hotel sojourn, install them immediately in a safe place in their new home.

Continuity in the early years is critical for developing a person's strong psychological foundation. One of the best ways it can be promoted is by providing multi-mover global nomads with a "touch-stone", a "home-base" somewhere on the planet to which they return regularly over the years. Here they can measure their growth, their developing interests, their confidence that some things do indeed stay the same. Perhaps for some it's the grandparents' home or the home of an aunt and uncle. Perhaps for others it's a summer retreat in the family's favored travel destination. It matters less where it is than that it in fact exists somewhere at all.

Family routines and rituals also promote continuity and the sense of home. Bed-times and meal-times, rules of behavior, family celebrations and religious holidays - consistency with these regardless of where in the world one may find oneself, gives the global nomad a way to "return" to the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar.

This may, in fact, be a key skill which the most fortunate of global nomads learn to develop: we learn how to return to the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar, how to have a sense of being "at home" wherever we are currently living or traveling.

While the concept of home predominates in Rachel's short poem, another theme is interesting to note. Rachel says that she comes from England, and then continues: "I don't have any very strong feelings for it though..." There, indeed, speaks a global nomad, for that is quite a standard experience. After all, it's hard to have any very strong sense of allegiance to a place one has never really known. This can be quite disturbing to grandparents, however, or even to the global nomad's more home-grown parents themselves.

Another not infrequent experience is that of global nomads taking on a reserve towards or even an active dislike for their "home" countries. This has been especially noted among global nomads who lived in host countries once colonized by their passport countries. Global nomads may, perhaps not surprisinly, take on the sense of outrage towards the colonizer - whether political or economic - that their host country peers express.

Of course, the opposite is also true. U.S. American global nomads, for example, may develop quite a sense of patriotic fervor based on the prevalence of that country's cultural exports around the world. It's easy to think one knows the U.S. when one can watch its television programs, hear its newscasts, keep up-to-date with its sports and music. Upon eventual re-entry to the U.S., however, U.S. American global nomads typically find themselves no less shocked by their differences from home-grown Americans than any other global nomad upon re-entry. Indeed, if unprepared for their re-entry, U.S. American global nomads may be all the more shocked by their differentness, having assumed such familiarity.

Many adult global nomads, whether multi-movers or not, would say that one of the great advantages of the global nomad experience is an expanded sense of allegiance. While we may have less sense of home in any single country, we typically have a heightened sense of home the world over. Our allegiance may be less to any single nation-state and more to the world community and to the planet on which we all live together.

—Barbara Schaetti

We welcome your comments, and we invite you to share your own experiences of international mobility through poetry, stories, or other prose.

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